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Jakarta Post

Parties stand behind embattled governor

  • Nurul Fitri Ramadhani and Moses Ompusunggu

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, November 5, 2016   /  07:49 am
Parties stand behind embattled governor Megawati Soekarnoputri (left), chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), helped by Jakarta Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat, puts a red jacket on Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama during their registration at the Jakarta Election Commission in Jakarta on Wednesday. Ahok and Djarot are running mates on the party’s ticket in the elections to seek their second term in office. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

The stakes have been raised for the political parties supporting Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, the man at the center of possibly the largest rally the country has seen since the 1998 downfall of Soeharto.

Parties endorsing his candidacy in next year’s gubernatorial election, however, have insisted they will keep him in the race despite mounting pressure from Muslim groups, led by the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI), to have him prosecuted for alleged blasphemy.

Officials from the pro-Ahok coalition have dismissed rumors saying that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has asked Ahok to stand down from the election, which is slated for February 2017 and is seen as an overture for the 2019 presidential election.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which has the most seats on Jakarta city council, claimed the rally had nothing to do with the Jakarta gubernatorial election.

“The rally is aimed at expediting the legal process of Ahok’s alleged blasphemy case. It bears no relation to the election,” PDI-P executive Hendrawan Soepratikno told The Jakarta Post on Friday, adding that the party had no worries about whether the case would damage Ahok’s candidacy.

“That’s the risk of democracy. The most important thing is the people can freely vote [for their preferred candidates],” he added.

As many as 100,000 protesters from various Muslim groups hit the streets of Jakarta on Friday, focusing their rally in front of the Presidential Palace as they demanded the government support the prosecution of Ahok for alleged blasphemy related to a remark he made about Al-Maidah verse 51 in the Quran.

The protesters accused President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo of trying to protect Ahok, his deputy when Jokowi was Jakarta governor.

Although admitting that the case, if not the rally, could undermine Ahok’s chances in the election, the Golkar Party remains upbeat that Ahok can win the election.

“Ahok has been cooperative. He is open to following the legal process. He will follow the process. He has also apologized,” said party politician Ace Hasan Syadzily, who is also a member of the Ahok-Djarot campaign team.

Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, has garnered huge popular support in the Muslim-majority capital despite his double-minority status. His candidacy is seen as a test case for Indonesia, which touts itself as role model for Muslim democracy.

The NasDem Party has urged Ahok to go on. “The rumor [that Ahok has been told to give up his candidacy] is a hoax,” NasDem Jakarta branch chairman Bestari Barus said. “The lebaran kuda is over. It’s time to go back to the competition and give our best,” he added, referring to an old Betawi term to describe something that has zero possibility of taking place.

Bestari was taking a jab at former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose eldest son, Agus Harimurti, is one of Ahok’s rivals, when he used the term to remind Jokowi that the rallies against Ahok would not stop until the government listened to the protesters’ aspirations.

Political observers say the incumbent is now caught between a rock and a hard place in deciding whether or not to continue on in the gubernatorial election.

Ahok’s movements have already been severely restricted in the capital amid rising sentiment against him.

Risks loomed if Ahok decided to continue running in the election, said Jakarta State University (UNJ) political analyst Ubedillah Badrun, pointing to the massive outrage voiced by the protesters during Friday’s rally. “The pressure is so intense that this kind of demonstration is surely likely to take place in the future if Ahok still tries to compete in the election,” Ubedillah said.

Ubedillah said it was likely that Ahok’s candidacy would be decided by PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri as she was the most experienced politician in Ahok’s camp and thrived on this kind of pressure.

Paramadina University political expert Hendra Satrio said it was still possible for Ahok to run in the election, but under the condition that he curb his outspoken style to prevent a similar brouhaha in the future

He added that if Ahok decided to stay in the gubernatorial election, it would also secure the interests of political parties backing his candidacy, as well as Jokowi, who is a close friend of Ahok.

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